Combining Kettlebell Training and Yoga

Woman balancing in a yoga pose on top of a kettlebell

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Exercise aficionados around the country are blending workout formats to bust boredom and improve fitness in less time. One combination that has gained popularity is kettlebell yoga—a combination of Russian strength training that uses a cast iron steel ball and traditional vinyasa sequences.

While some might find this an unlikely pairing, the two practices have several key features and benefits in common. Training in one modality may increase your performance in the other, and combining both practices can help boost flexibility, strength, and stability in less time.

Kettlebell Training

Kettlebells are cast iron ball-shaped weights with handles. The bells come in varying sizes and weights, but a key feature is that their weight is not distributed evenly like a traditional dumbbell.

The unique shape and weight distribution of the kettlebell make them uniquely suited for strength-training movements that involve swinging. Kettlebells were used by Russian strength athletes throughout the 19th century. In the early 2000s, they became popular in gyms across North America.

Benefits

There is little scientific evidence specifically on the benefits of kettlebell training. In fact, a large scale research review published in 2019 specifically noted that more high-quality research needs to be conducted to fully understand the benefits and limitations of the training modality.

But the authors of that review did point out some distinct benefits that have at least some scientific support. For example, a few studies demonstrated positive hormonal changes (changes in serum testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol) with kettlebell training. Other studies report that kettlebell users benefit from cardiorespiratory and metabolic responses, which could improve health and aerobic performance.

Those who participate in kettlebell training also report that this mode of training improves coordination, agility, strength, core stability, and power.

Typical Training Regime

A basic kettlebell workout may last from 20 minutes to an hour. Depending on your level of fitness you might lift bells weighing 5–10 pounds for higher risk exercises, or 15–35 pounds or more for more basic movements.

A typical routine may involve movements such as the kettlebell swing, Russian twist, high pull, clean, and more. Some also incorporate kettlebells into their traditional weight lifting workout.

Yoga

Yoga is a movement practice that unites the mind, body, and spirit. The practice of yoga has been around for centuries. There are many different types of yoga including Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, and Kundalini. Most yoga practices include pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, and asanas or poses.

Benefits

The health benefits of yoga are widely documented. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, benefits of a regular practice include:

  • Stress reduction
  • Better sleep
  • Improved balance
  • Relief from low-back or neck pain
  • A decrease in menopause symptoms
  • Better management of anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations

The organization notes that it may also help some people quit smoking, lose weight, or manage chronic disease.

Typical Training Regime

Those who practice yoga usually practice regularly at home or take at least 2–3 classes per week to gain benefits. Many take vinyasa classes that include a flow (or continuous) stream of poses over 45 minutes to one hour. Participants challenge their balance and endurance as they hold poses and transition from one pose to another.

How to Practice Kettlebell Yoga

Paired together, kettlebells and yoga can form a powerfully well-rounded and comprehensive health and fitness system. Shared principles of the two practices enhance performance in both modalities. These shared principles include:

  • Presence of mind. Yoga emphasizes paying attention to how your body, movement, breath, and your own practice feels at every moment. Kettlebell training works through multiple planes of motion at high speeds which demands laser-like concentration.
  • Posture. Yoga teaches about the core alignment of your body. These same guidelines are followed when lifting kettlebells.
  • Breathing. In both yoga and kettlebell training, the breath is coordinated with every movement and a strong focus is kept on the breathing.

There are different ways to practice kettlebell yoga.

Classes

Some areas of the country have classes that combine the two fitness formats. For example, some yoga studios in cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Melbourne, Australia have offered classes where kettlebells are added to specific vinyasa poses. The end result is a strength-training yoga flow.

You're more likely to find kettlebell yoga classes in yoga studies rather than fitness gyms that specialize in kettlebell training. Of course, if there is no class in your area, you can also choose to add kettlebells to your home yoga practice. Just be careful to start with light weights first until you become comfortable with the added resistance.

Create Your Own Routine

You can also practice kettlebell yoga on your own. Do so by alternating formats on different days or within a single workout.

  • Alternate days: Many strength-trained athletes lift weights every other day. For example, a Monday/Wednesday/Friday training schedule allows for proper muscle recovery for hypertrophy and improved performance.
    Consider adding yoga on your "off" days. While yoga does incorporate strength challenges, there is no added resistance so you don't risk over-working the muscles you trained on the previous day. You'll also benefit from increased flexibility.
  • Single workout: Try combining yoga poses with kettlebell exercises in a circuit format. For example, start with a sun salutation flow. Keep it moving for 8–10 minutes, then move to a kettlebell exercise such as figure 8 or Russian twist. Complete up to 15 reps of 2–3 kettlebell exercises then return to a 10-minute yoga flow. Continue alternating for up to an hour.

The blend of strength, fitness, and flexibility found with kettlebell and yoga practice makes them a perfect union. Give it a try if you're looking for a way to mix up your fitness routine.

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Article Sources

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  1. Meigh NJ, Keogh JWL, Schram B, Hing WA. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: A scoping reviewBMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2019;11:19. doi:10.1186/s13102-019-0130-z

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Yoga: What You Need To Know. Updated May 2019